Scope of the inquiry
GOV.UK Verify (Verify) is the government’s flagship identity verification platform. It was intended to be the default way for people to prove their identity when using digital services that need to know who the user is, for services such as claiming tax back or receiving benefit payments. Users sign up for Verify, pick from a list of “identity providers”, and then get a log-in to access the services they need.
However, some members of the public have experienced problems with the system. For example, of the 70% of Universal Credit claimants who signed up, only 38% can successfully verify their identity online.
A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report found that the performance of Verify has consistently been below the standards the Government Digital Service (GDS) originally set. In 2016, GDS forecast that 25 million people would use Verify by April 2020 and they would be able to access 46 government services online by March 2018. However, at February 2019 only 3.6 million people had signed up and 19 government services currently use Verify, but 11 of these can still be accessed through other online systems.
GDS intended that Verify would be largely funded by the departments using it by March 2018, but low take-up means that government continues to fund it centrally. At December 2018, Verify and its predecessor programme (the Identity Assurance Programme) had cost the taxpayer £154 million. At £58 million, the biggest category of costs is payments to providers.
The Cabinet Office and HM Treasury have decided to stop funding for Verify in March 2020. After that point, GDS intends that the private sector will take responsibility for Verify, including investment to ensure its future delivery. However, the NAO report found that GDS and the Cabinet Office have not been clear about how providers will take over control and management of Verify in the future.
On 18 March, the Public Accounts Committee will question officials in the Cabinet Office and GDS, alongside the original architects of the programme, about the poor performance and costs of the Verify programme. Probing the reviews that were carried out, the Committee will seek to challenge officials on early indications that Verify would not meet its targets, the decisions consistently taken to continue and the future plan once public funding stops in 2020.